I have that line from “Shallow,” Lady Gaga’s Oscar-winning song from A Star is Born, in my head:
In all the good times I find myself
Longing for change
I’m fixated on the word “change.” It is an odd word to put in a song that’s essentially a love song, but Lady Gaga is a brilliant songwriter and when I first heard the film’s soundtrack I knew right away every single song told the story of the film. So why the word “change”?
Out of curiosity I borrowed the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version of A Star is Born from the library and viewed it for the first time. I saw something in Kristofferson’s burned out rock star that told me something about Bradley Cooper’s version and also about my assumptions of what that phrase “burned out rock star” really means. To me it seemed to be a musician who’d had too good of a time on the road, steeped in the whole sex, drugs, rock and roll cliché.
But that definition doesn’t get at the root of the burnout. At a few points in the film Kristofferson’s character rails at having to sing the exact same songs over and over. He starts every concert exactly the same. “Are you a figment of my imagination? Or am I a figment of yours?” He can’t even change his music or play new songs because his fans won’t accept them. He is in a hell of sameness, and unlike the film Groundhog Day, no one’s laughing. The moment when, in the middle of a concert, he walks out, grabs a guy’s motorcycle, and spins around on it before driving it off the stage is not funny in the extreme. Busting out of hell isn’t pretty.
Lady Gaga gets that. Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine, is longing for change. When he sees her character, Ally, perform in the drag bar, he feels delight. He’s moved to tears because he probably hasn’t felt anything real in ages. It’s different. It’s change.
But why is the lyric, and that word, on my mind?
In all the good times I find myself
Longing for change
Maybe because it’s the season for change. Recent graduates are settling into their new lives. School is about to begin. Empty nesters in my neighborhood have For Sale signs on their lawns. People are changing jobs. One of my friends is moving to Los Angeles. Another has told me she’s leaving her teaching position to become executive director of a nonprofit. Both times when I heard the news I felt a strange tug and I recognized it as envy, but not in the way you might think. To me, envy is information. If I feel envy I have to look at what I’m envying and decide: Do I feel this way because that’s something I really want? If the answer is yes, I figure out how to get there.
But this time it’s a different envy because it’s not the job or the book deal or the fellowship or the residency I’m envying. It’s the change. Something about that person’s life is going to become quite different. For the moment, mine is not. I think I’m longing for change.
However, this is also a “be careful what you wish for” kind of thing. Because change can show up in horrible life-altering ways: my sister’s death eight years ago this month, my friends Katy and Rob’s deaths last year, the shootings at my son’s school, Sandy Hook Elementary, in 2012. I feel the tension of this energy, that if I don’t create change for myself it might be thrust upon me in a terrible way.
I focus on the positive. Hugh Jackman nudging Zac Efron towards change in The Greatest Showman:
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see
Do I need change? Or do I need something a little crazy?
And what would that look like? Crazy can look like a motorcycle flying off a stage. It can look like a donut stuffed with a brownie. (If you’ve ever been to a Donut Crazy store in Connecticut, you’ll know what I mean!)
Or it could just be something a little different. Because this is all the risk I can handle right now: Recently I chose to walk on the other side of the street on my way to the library where I’ve been writing.
I noticed something extraordinary.
Each day I would go by two ancient townhouses, both occupied but in need of a little TLC. I’ve wondered what their interiors look, what it would take to renovate them. But from the other side of the street I saw that there are three townhomes standing together, not two. The third has a huge modern addition in front of it, as though someone attached an apartment building to its front yard. The new stone block structure seems to embrace the old townhouse even as it obscures it. I never noticed the top of the original townhouse, still intact, because I was too close to the addition to see it.
Jackson Maine entered a drag bar and heard a song that made him cry. I crossed a street and discovered a building. What else are my eager eyes not seeing?
I’m not seeing, for example, that this hunger for change could simply be my childish fussing in an impatient moment. Between now and the end of September I’m teaching in Madison, New Jersey, Denver, Colorado, and the Veneto region of Italy. I’ve never been to Italy. Isn’t this change enough? Perhaps when I return, the nudging of the “Shallow” lyric will have dissolved into the colors of a Venetian sunset. Or I could begin longing for something else.
I will keep crossing streets.
Hey check out Chronometry, which also explores change.
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